The 30 Hour Famine as a Platform for Building Relationships


Rocky Supinger, Associate Pastor, Claremont Presbyterian Church

This year’s 30 Hour Famine will be my fourth as a youth leader, and I expect the crowd that ambles into the church hall on Friday night dragging sleeping bags and furtive glances to be as unknown to me as the past few have been. They will be less unknown by the time they leave on Saturday night, but not much less. And when they go, I’m not likely to see them much again.

This is the way I have chosen to employ the 30 Hour Famine in my youth ministry, and I expect that my approach to the Famine will be different than how many other youth workers use it. It’s an event for the youth of our community, only some of whom are in relationship with our church. It serves its own critical purpose of educating young people about hunger and mobilizing them to solve it, but it doesn’t attempt to retain those participants for the rest of our church’s youth programs. Sure, I’d be more than happy to see some of the Famine participants show up in our youth group; but I’m not going to cajole or coerce or manipulate them into doing so. I’m not using Famine as a “recruitment tool.”

If I’m honest, I don’t have a full plate of confidence about this approach. But I’m rarely confident that any of our youth ministry initiatives are going the way they should! This one, though, is shaped after a particular student. Maggie was in 11th grade when I first recruited her to help me plan the 30 Hour Famine. She was not a member of our church, though her mom regularly attended, and she had never once attended youth group. But Maggie is passionate about justice, so after recklessly little forethought, I invited her to take on the Famine with me.

As could have been expected, she dove into it with passion and gusto, especially with respect to recruitment. At 6:00 that first February Friday night in 2011, a stream of about 15 students came through our door who were complete strangers to me. They were all friends of Maggie. She had talked them into coming. These were Student Council officers, soccer team captains, and Honors Society presidents. They were eager to join their friend in something that was this important to her. When the event ended they left, and that’s the last I saw of most of them. I’m fine with that.

Media Critic Jeff Jarvis writes in his book What Would Google Do? that Google’s success as a social utility is not the result of creating programs. Rather, Google creates platforms upon which communities of developers can do the work they’re eager to do. So Google Maps is not made up of Google code, but the platform is all green, yellow, red, and blue.

I decided to employ the 30 Hour Famine as a platform upon which young people in our community could do some good. Our church doesn’t write the program, World Vision does. But the program belongs to the students who come, our users.  To be honest, we’re pretty shameless about tweaking the platform to suit the needs of our users– we’ve drawn in other materials and amped up the social and fun aspects of the weekend.

Our planning team met last weekend to prepare for our April 19-20th Famine, and of the 10 students who want to lead it, only two have done the Famine before. So the event we produce together will be of, by, and for these students and their friends.

As with recent Famines, there’s no telling what will happen with this one. And I’m okay with that.